Mateen Siddiqui did his Masters in
Sociology from Dacca University, former East Pakistan. He, along with
his family, fled the country in 1972 soon after its violent creation in
to Bangladesh a year earlier. He managed to reach Karachi 'to start my
life all over again with only assets being my clothes.' He got himself
registered with the Public Works Department as contractor in 1976 and
worked in the construction business till 1986 and was also elected the
General Secretary of PWD Contractors' Association. In 1986 he made a
career change from construction to fruit exporter. Today his company,
Rishad Mateen, is a leading exporter of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Mateen is the chairman of Fruit Vegetable Processors and Exporters
By Syed M. Aslam
Dec 10 - 16 , 2001
PAGE: What induced you to make a career change
from construction to fruit export?
Mateen Siddiqui: I happened to visit a number
of places in the Far East including Bangkok, Singapore, Malaysia and
Hong Kong years prior to starting my own company. I realized that
Pakistani fruits can help make a big niche in these countries. For
instance, mango then was a hot item commanding good prices in Hong Kong.
During many visits I ordered cartons of mangoes delivered to me which I
sold from shop to shop. You may call me door-to-door mango salesman. I
was also impressed by the profit of margin then — Rs 8,000 on every
ton or 665 dollars at the conversion rate of Rs 12/dollar.
PAGE: Why so little value addition is taking
place in fruits and vegetables?
Mateen Siddiqui: It is due to reasons of
economics as well as eating habits. Tin packing, one of the basic
pre-requisite for value-addition, is very expensive as we have to import
tin. In addition, unlike the developed countries where pure fruit and
vegetable pulps such as orange, tomato, mango make an essential parts of
breakfast and meals there is no demand for such products. Whatever
little demand is there it can be met by a number of operators. On the
one hand the highly expensive cost of packing renders value-added
products in-competitive in the international market and on the other,
the domestic base of them is very small. That explains why there is not
a single big plant producing concentrated fruit pulp in the country and
a couple of relatively smaller plants which did, had to close their
PAGE: What could be done?
Mateen Siddiqui: Despite the above
discouraging factors, both economic and cultural, the importance of
value-addition can hardly be over-emphasized. Value-addition is
imperative to help us avoid immense wastage of fruits and vegetables due
to one of many reasons be it absence of farm-to-market infrastructure or
absence of storage capacity in a temperature controlled environment.
Value-addition can help us substantially increase our export earnings by
avoiding massive wastage of fruits and preserving them. For instance,
substantial quantity of plum is produced in and around the city of
Peshawar. Some 40 per cent of the plum crop is wasted within the
premises of the very orchards it is grown in and another 20 per cent is
lost during the transportation.
PAGE: What fruit has the greatest export
Mateen Siddiqui: It definitely is Kino, our
equivalent of mandarins. Mango also has a great potential. One fruit
which has great export potential which remains totally underutilized
today is persimone, or Amlok. It has immense demand in the Far East
market which readily pays a premium price on this fruit of Japanese
origin. It is in great demand in the Far East market where it is sold by
piece instead of by kilogram here. The good thing is that we have a
sizeable exportable surplus. However, there are certain problems that
got to be solved if we intend to materialize the immense potential. The
amlok that we grow has two major problems — number one it turns
excessively tender when ripe and number two, it is too sticky and
choking taste. The agriculturists, researchers and scientists should try
to develop new variety with reduced water content, lesser stickiness and
gradual ripening to make an impact in the valuable market of the Far
PAGE: What about grapes?
Mateen Siddiqui: Yes Pakistani grapes also
have great potential in the European, Gulf and Middle Eastern markets.
We have failed to develop a major market for our grapes yet. While we
have been exporting grapes to Bangladesh for over a dozen years, it is
only for the first time this year that they are shipped by sea. This
shows that we had been wrong all along that grapes can only be shipped
by air as has been the case. It takes about 22 days to ship grapes
shipment from Quetta to Dacca — via Karachi and Chittagong — and the
entire shipment reached there in perfectly good condition. This means
increased grape exports to Bangladesh where it is much popular to retail
for as much as 300 Takas per kilogram. Yes, we have the surplus.
PAGE: What about onion and potato?
Mateen Siddiqui: Despite having sizeable crops
the two most widely vegetables have been able to make a presence in Sri
Lanka only. We are the biggest exporter of potato to Sri Lanka and we
have been able to take the entire market away from the Indian
counterpart. While our onion has also been able to make a heavy presence
in Sri Lanka it is not as preferred. We need to expand the market of
onion and potato which revolves round primarily Sri Lanka, Dubai and